Cannabis reform edges closer as PN votes against in conclusion of second reading

Prime Minister Robert Abela addresses House on cannabis legalisation law, Opposition leader Bernard Grech does not make final intervention

Prime Minister Robert Abela
Prime Minister Robert Abela

Parliament closed its second reading on a Bill regulating recreational cannabis and home-growing on Monday, with Prime Minister Robert Abela addressing the concerns of parents and social workers on lax cannabis regulations.

Opposition leader Bernard Grech did not make a final intervention on the second reading’s conclusion, suggesting that the PN will be taking its conclusive position after the Bill’s committee amendments.

The Opposition voted against the Bill on Monday before being passed over to the Consideration of Bills Committee,

Under the current law, anyone in possession of over 3.5g risks tainting their criminal record, resulting in loss of employment or other job opportunities. In some cases, people have been arrested for smoking a joint.

“We want the police force to focus on harmful criminals, not on citizens causing no harm to anyone,” Abela said on Monday evening.

Under the proposed Bill, people over 18 will be able to have 7g of cannabis on their body at any time without it being considered a criminal offence. For amounts above 7g and below 28g the person could face charges in front of a tribunal with a proportional penalty, likely a fine.

However, any person with up to 28g of cannabis will not be arrested unless there is strong and reasonable suspicion of trafficking.

He said several parents came to his private legal office over the years with a summons in hand because their child was to be tried in court over cannabis possession. “Some people would be given a fine or conditional bail. I saw people cry in court because the magistrate gave them an option for six months jail time if they reveal who they bought the drugs from,” he recalled.

Abela said he understands the concerns being brought forward by parents on the Bill. To these parents, he asked them to put themselves in the shoes of other parents whose children were taken to court over a joint. “I believe, hand on heart, that this legislative development is not only important but also being done with a sense of responsibility,” he said.

The Prime Minister hit out at the Nationalist Party’s stance against the proposed Bill. Last Saturday, party leader Bernard Grech reiterated the Opposition’s cautionary position on the Bill while stating that the party does not want people to go to prison over a joint.

To this, Abela stated plainly that no one can be against people going to prison over a joint yet at the same time against the proposed Bill. “You cannot be sceptical against the Bill, and then say you do not want people resorting to traffickers or dealers in the black market.”